Juan José Etxeberría: "Deusto is a transformational university that also transforms itself to better respond to the needs of society"

The new Rector of the University of Deusto takes office 

Arturo Sosa and Juan José Etxeberria

22 May 2023

Ceremonial Hall

“Gratitude, Responsibility-Service, Project and Community" are the four key ideas shared by Juan José Etxeberria after taking office as new Rector of the University of Deusto on 22 May. A position that inspires "a great deal of respect", which he takes on with the firm commitment to devoting "his best energies over the coming years" to the university mission of the Society of Jesus and to serving all the people who make it possible. And he does so trusting "in the help of God, in the guidance of our founder Saint Ignatius and in the good work of the entire university community".

This is how the Rector expressed himself in his first address as the University's highest representative. With over 400 people in attendance, the Ceremonial Hall hosted the academic ceremony that was presided over by the Jesuits' General Superior Arturo Sosa, SJ, and was attended by the President of the Basque Government, Iñigo Urkullu, as well as other prominent authorities from the religious, academic, social, economic and political spheres.

The new rector, Professor at the Law School, has taken over from José María Guibert, who has completed his third and final term of office and will hold the Gasson Chair at Boston College for the 2023-2024 academic year. Juan José Etxeberria dedicated the first thought of his speech to the outgoing rector: gratitude. "Gratitude" to a "true Ignatian leader and excellent Rector" for having steered this ship for the last ten years and to whom we should all be grateful for "your dedication, your effort, your commitment, your willingness to listen, your determination to improve this university and your know-how", he said.

He also thanked the university community because "the University is not made of stones and bricks, but of valuable people" and it is they who "give me the energy to carry out this service, confident that I can count on your support and collaboration".

A transformational university that also transforms itself

He then focused on "responsibility". He claimed to be aware that Deusto is facing major challenges, some of which are shared with the rest of the universities, and other specific ones that have to do with our way of understanding the University’s work. "The future ahead presents us with "far-reaching challenges, which are both complex and exciting", he said.

In this regard, the Rector announced that the social, technological, cultural and religious changes we are experiencing and will experience in the coming years will compel us to promote and develop one of the principles outlined in our recently approved Strategic Plan: "Deusto is a transformational university that also transforms itself to better respond to the needs of society".

Juan José Etxeberria said that the challenges facing us and humanity as a whole include the ecological deterioration of our planet, energy transformation, human mobility and coexistence in increasingly diverse societies, and the political and social influence of rapid technological change. Furthermore, there is also a demographic crisis in our immediate environment, with consequences in the economic, social and political spheres. Changes which, as he pointed out, will have repercussions for the University.

In this respect, he reckoned that major changes will arise in learning and education, in the nature and number of university actors involved, in the socio-cultural make-up of our youth, in the demands of society, or in the social and political understanding of the meaning of university education or knowledge generation. "All this calls us to rethink and remake our structures, our degrees, our processes and our traditions, all the while in dialogue with others, listening attentively to this reality, and in partnership or networking with other universities and many other actors," he stated.

It is within this framework that the new Rector understands his responsibility to respond to the forthcoming challenges and ensure that the University of Deusto continues to develop and update its Mission in the rapidly changing world and times in which we live.

Strategic projects

Deusto's Rector explained that his new task will be eased by having a "Project": the recently approved 2023-2026 Strategic Plan, which provides a timeframe for action to address such a complex reality. The plan sets out the five key options that outline the way forward for the coming years. Our challenge is for "Deusto to continue to excel thanks to its own education model, its personalised support to students and its values-based education".

Juan José Etxeberria firmly believes that our response to the new reality is to broaden the range of programmes we offer. He also said that, in the coming years, in addition to increasing the number and range of degrees, we will innovate in new study modes and formats in order to reach more audiences, in ways and at times that are different from the traditional ones. Likewise, the aim is to focus research activity by strengthening the contribution to society in those areas in which Deusto provides or can provide added value. "Academic commitments that will set us apart as a university, while aligning our contribution to social transformation with our own mission and identity," he explained.

In this regard, the four universal apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus - "showing the way to God", "walking with the excluded", "journeying with youth" and "caring for our common home" - are a guide and a stimulus that will help us to carry this project forward. As the new Rector explained, these preferences, which are becoming more and more evident in the university's activities at Deusto, "embody our commitment to the 2030 Agenda".

The University is aware that it is "impossible to carry out the University’s work alone". In fact, "our strength also lies in the partnerships and networks we build with other social, economic, cultural and ecclesial actors: "by discussing, listening and working with the rest of the society we want to serve". In particular, through existing university networks, such as the university networks of the Society of Jesus worldwide, the European university alliance UNIC, the UNIJES-Jesuit Universities network or the Basque Government, within the framework of the Basque University System, among others.

Juan José Etxeberria ended his speech by referring, once again, to the important role of the university community because, in his opinion, the Deusto project can only be carried out thanks to a Community that is willing and faithful to our University’s entity. And it is this community he hopes to rely on in his new venture, without forgetting the 137 years of Deusto's tradition, and looking to the future with enthusiasm and hope.

He concluded his address by recalling the four inspirations on which he based his speech: "Gratitude", "responsibility (service)", "project" and "community", the four pillars upon which to continue to raise a solid building "because our Mission and our university project are both exciting and worthwhile, today more than ever", he pointed out. Full speech. 

Outgoing Rector

The inauguration ceremony of the new Rector Juan José Etxeberria also included a tribute to members of the University's governing board, as well as the words of outgoing Rector José María Guibert, who in his last address as head of Deusto reviewed his ten-year tenure. A period for which he feels very "grateful for the trust placed in him", "apologies for what he has not done well" and "satisfaction for the steps taken and the progress made in the different dimensions of the university".

In this regard, he spoke of Deusto's own education model, inspired by Ignatian pedagogy, which has adapted to new circumstances: dual education, service-learning, online education, transversal competences and new qualifications… He recalled the pandemic, an occasion for much improvement in teaching and in which more progress was made in two years than in six. He stated that for Deusto, methodology and technology must always go hand in hand; but he also believed that it is necessary to invest in technology in a meaningful way, always with students and their development in mind. In his view, something similar will happen with Artificial Intelligence, which is going to be "a source of improvement at Deusto".

He also recalled the advances in research made in recent years and the great development in the relationship with the different social actors, which speaks of the relevance of the University’s impact university beyond the campus walls because "we are increasingly interrelated institutions". His last words were for the new Rector, Juan José Etxeberria, whom he thanked for his friendship and loyalty: " you have years ahead of you to further innovate in learning at the university, placing students at the very centre, renewing the generation of knowledge especially by focusing on what is most useful for the mission, recovering and leveraging the intellectual dimension of the Jesuit apostolate, and continuing to transform the organisation for that mission" and "you are the person who can do it best because you know Deusto's community like no one else". Full speech. 

Arturo Sosa, SJ

The academic ceremony was completed with the address of the Father General and Chancellor of the University, Arturo Sosa, who took advantage of the end of the 71st Congregation of Procurators of the Society of Jesus, held in Loyola, to join the entire university community at Deusto "as a sign of gratitude for the enormous human and Christian contribution that is made at this University, which goes beyond a brand, a ranking, a good social ranking. Deusto's service to society is not anchored to the past or limited to a closed, but rather traditional environment", he said.

In his opinion, being the Rector is a position of great responsibility because of how much the university can contribute to today's world through research that opens up new paths, teaching and social presence. All the University’s work contributes to responding to the social and personal needs of today's people. "Thank you, Juanjo, for accepting this service to respond to our current universal challenges, alongside the local or regional ones," he said.

Father General said that we are facing a major cultural and axiological change, which affects social cohesion and governance and conditions political decisions. He mentioned among them the growing phenomena of secularisation, the increased presence of ideological, religious and nationalist fundamentalism, greater cultural diversity in tension with the imposition of market-driven homogeneity of consumer goods, and the rise of post-truth in political communication, issues that put at risk the possibility of placing the Common Good as the objective of local and global social consensus.

He believed, however, that the University of Deusto is currently experiencing a stable and solid institutional period, one that will allow it to tackle the major challenges facing the university, such as the declining birth rate, increased competition, greater public demands and those of the groups involved, with a high quality of service to the mission. He thanked the Rector, José Mª Guibert and the whole team for the great work carried out, which could not be condensed into just a few words. He invited the new rector to pursue research areas that go to the heart of the human problem targeted by the Universal Apostolic Preferences (migration, youth, care for the common home, transmission of faith,…).

Today there is a lot of controversy in the networks and in the social debate. Being respected as a reliable voice, a meeting place, trustworthy, encompassing implicit or explicit Gospel values, is a difficult task. The various forums within the University are working on this. In Arturo Sosa's view, while it is already difficult to respond to these challenges, it is even more so if we want to do so from an "Ignatian way of proceeding". I trust in the capacity to know how to respond to this "polarity” and to so many others that go along with university management and leadership inspired by Ignatian spirituality!

He concluded by pointing out that all these challenges can be met today thanks to the outstanding work of a Rector, supported by a solid team, because the University is not managed by a single person, but by a team that makes it possible. "His imprint on Deusto, on Basque, Spanish and global society is remarkable and his work will allow us to continue contributing apostolically to the university's mission today and in the future", he pointed out. Full speech.